Research on the acquisition of CA languages
CA languages have certain structural properties that make them particularly difficult to acquire by English-speaking learners, such as head-final word order in the case of Turkic (e.g. Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uyghur, Uzbek) and Mongolic languages (e.g. Mongolian), resulting in sentences having Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) word order (as opposed to SVO in English), and postpositions (instead of prepositions). This situation is further complicated in Iranian languages (e.g. Dari, Kurdish, Pashto, Tajiki) which, unlike the majority of languages of the world, have an interesting dichotomy of being headfinal at the sentential level, yet behave like head-initial languages with respect to noun phrases and prepositional phrases in certain contexts, making them highly marked in comparison to English (and potentially more difficult to learn). Likewise, phonological features such as vowel harmony are distinctive characteristics of Turkic and Mongolic languages uncommon in other languages of the world, and are highly challenging for English-speaking learners of these languages, in many cases functioning as the primary cause for foreign accent (see e.g. Özçelik & Sprouse’s 2017 paper in Second Language Research). Similarly, various Iranian languages, such as Kurdish and Pashto demonstrate a unique form of ergativity (whereby the subject of an intransitive verb behaves like the object of a transitive verb), called split-ergativity. The acquisition of this structure has implications for language teaching theories in general. As such, rigorous research will be conducted to find more effective teaching methods geared towards teaching these specific structural characteristics of CA languages to English-speaking learners.
In the first stage of this research project, CeLCAR will determine the constructions that pose the greatest challenges for learners and find effective and innovative ways of teaching them, as has been done in our previous research on phonology, on which preliminary findings have already been published in high impact journals in SLA (Özçelik & Sprouse, 2017, Second Language Research; Özçelik, 2018, Language Acquisition), contributing to our knowledge of language learning not just in CA languages, but also informing language acquisition/learning theory in general, thanks to their unique structural characteristics not extant in European languages.
In this cycle, we will continue to contribute to this scientific knowledge (with impact reaching beyond CA languages) by not only focusing on additional constructions in CA languages, but also examining (i) effects of orthography and (ii) role of extensive reading on student learning, both of which are recently undergoing intense study in SLA and will benefit from the unique insight of CA languages. This is primarily because CA languages that are structurally very similar often use completely different alphabet systems (as with the use of Cyrillic by speakers of Tajiki vs. Perso-Arabic script for Dari; Latin alphabet for Uzbek vs. Arabic script for Uyghur, etc.), meaning that data from CA languages can help disentangle effects of potentially confounding variables, an effect not as easily achievable with European languages (see Özçelik & Sprouse’s 2016 ‘Deep Orthography Hypothesis’ for preliminary insight into the importance of the issue). This empirical research will be conducted under the supervision of Professor Rex A. Sprouse (SLS) in collaboration with CeLCAR’s Director Öner Özçelik and a graduate hourly.